Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Order: Third President
Vice President: Aaron Burr; George Clinton
Term of office: March 4, 1801March 4, 1809
Preceded by: John Adams
Succeeded by: James Madison
Date of birth: April 13, 1743
Place of birth: Shadwell, Virginia
Date of death: July 4, 1826
Place of death: Charlottesville, Virginia
First Lady: None; wife Martha died before he took office
Political party: Democratic-Republican

Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743July 4, 1826) was the third (18011809) President of the United States and an American statesman, ambassador to France, political philosopher, revolutionary, agriculturalist, horticulturist, land owner, architect, archaeologist, slaveowner, author and founder of the University of Virginia.

Many people consider Jefferson to be among the most brilliant men ever to occupy the Presidency. President John F. Kennedy welcomed 49 Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962, saying, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." Achievements of his presidency include the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.


Biographical information

Jefferson's parents were Peter Jefferson (March 29, 1708August 17, 1757) and Jane Randolph (February 20, 1720March 31, 1776), both from families who had settled in Virginia for several generations. He attended and then attempted to institute many reforms at the College of William & Mary — where he was a member of the secret Flat Hat Club — before founding his own vision of higher education at the University of Virginia.

Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, and a source of many other contributions to American political and civil culture. The Continental Congress delegated task of writing the Declaration which included Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston. The committee met and unanimously solicited Jefferson to prepare the draft of the Declaration alone.

The Library of Congress was founded from the sale of his collection (the Library was founded in 1800; Jefferson sold his third library to the Congress in 1815). Jefferson himself designed his famous home, Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia; it included automatic doors, the first swivel chair, and other convenient devices invented by Jefferson. Nearby is the University of Virginia, the original architecture and curriculum of which Jefferson also designed. Frank E. Grizzard, Jr., a scholar at the University of Virginia, has written the definitive book on the original buildings, or Academical Village (, at the University of Virginia.

Missing image
Letter to Col. Skipwith, concerning millet seed

Jefferson's interests included archaeology, a discipline then in its infancy. He has sometimes been called the "father of archaeology" in recognition of his role in developing excavation techniques. When exploring an Indian burial mound on his Virginia estate in 1784, Jefferson avoided the common practice of simply digging downwards until something turned up. Instead, he cut a wedge out of the mound so that he could walk into it, look at the layers of occupation, and draw conclusions from them.

Jefferson was also an avid wine lover and noted gourmet. During his ambassadorship to France (1784-1789) he took extensive trips through French and other European wine regions and sent the best back to the White House. He is noted for the bold pronouncement: "We could in the United States make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good." While there were extensive vineyards planted at Monticello, a significant portion were of the European wine grape Vitis vinifera and did not survive the many vine diseases native to the Americas. Thus, Jefferson himself was never able to produce wine on par with Europe. However, it seems likely that he would be pleased with the quantity and quality of wine now being made in Virginia, to say nothing of the rest of the country.

Missing image
Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson's idea for the United States was that of an agricultural nation of yeoman farmers, in contrast to the vision of Alexander Hamilton, who envisioned a nation of commerce and manufacturing. Jefferson was a great believer in the uniqueness and the potential of the United States and is often classified a forefather of American exceptionalism (see also exceptionalism).

Jefferson was the first Secretary of State of the United States, serving from 1789 until 1795. He was also the second vice president of the United States, under John Adams from 1797 until 1801, achieving that position after getting second place in the presidential election of 1796.

An electoral tie resulted between Jefferson and his opponent Aaron Burr in the U.S. presidential election, 1800. It was resolved on February 17, 1801 when Jefferson was elected President and Burr Vice President by the United States House of Representatives. Jefferson was the only Vice President elected to the Presidency to serve two full terms as of 2005.

Jefferson's portrait appears on the U.S. $2 bill and the U.S. five cent piece, or nickel. Jefferson also appears on the $100 Series EE Savings Bond. Jefferson is buried on his Monticello estate. Jefferson's epitaph, written by him with an insistence that only his words and "not a word more" be inscribed, reads,

Here was buried
Thomas Jefferson
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom
& Father of the University of Virginia


Main article: Jefferson Administration

Jefferson's presidency was the first to start in the White House and the first Democratic-Republican presidency.

Events during his presidency


PresidentThomas Jefferson1801–1809
Vice PresidentAaron Burr1801–1805
 George Clinton1805–1809
Secretary of StateJames Madison1801–1809
Secretary of the TreasurySamuel Dexter1801
 Albert Gallatin1801–1809
Secretary of WarHenry Dearborn1801–1809
Attorney GeneralLevi Lincoln1801–1804
 Robert Smith1805
 John Breckinridge1805–1806
 Caesar A. Rodney1807–1809
Postmaster GeneralJoseph Habersham1801
 Gideon Granger1801–1809
Secretary of the NavyBenjamin Stoddert1801
 Robert Smith1801–1810

Supreme Court appointments

Jefferson appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

States admitted to the Union

Appearance, temperament and interests

Jefferson was six feet, two-and-one-half inches (189 cm) in height, large-boned, slim, erect and sinewy. He had angular features, a very ruddy complexion, sandy hair and hazel-flecked, grey eyes. Age lessened the unattractiveness of his exterior. In later years he was negligent in dress and loose in bearing.

There was grace, nevertheless, in his manners; and his frank and earnest address, his quick sympathy (yet he seemed cold to strangers), his vivacious, desultory, informing talk gave him an engaging charm. Beneath a quiet surface he was fairly aglow with intense convictions and a very emotional temperament. Yet he seems to have acted habitually, in great and little things, on system. His mind, no less trenchant and subtle than Hamilton's, was the most impressible, the most receptive, mind of his time in America. The range of his interests is remarkable. For many years he was president of the American Philosophical Society.

Though it is a biographical tradition that he lacked wit, MoliŤ≤• and Don Quixote seem to have been his favorites; and though the utilitarian wholly crowds romanticism out of his writings, he had enough of that quality in youth to prepare to learn Gaelic in order to translate Ossian, and sent to James Macpherson for the originals.

Some historians believe that he was further motivated to discontinue the practice of the president delivering the State of the Union Address due to the fact he had a lisp. In addition to the fact that he burned all of his letters between himself and his wife upon her death creates the portrait of a man who at times could be very private.

His interest in art was evidently intellectual. He was singularly sweet-tempered, and shrank from the impassioned political bitterness that raged about him; bore with relative equanimity a flood of coarse and malignant abuse of his motives, morals, religion, personal honesty and decency; cherished very few personal animosities; and better than any of his great antagonists cleared political opposition of ill-blooded personality. In short, his kindness of heart rose above all social, religious or political differences, and nothing destroyed his confidence in men and his sanguine views of life.

Contemporary scholars debate over whether Jefferson suffered from Asperger's Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism.

Religious views

On matters of religion, Jefferson was sometimes accused by his political opponents of being an atheist; however, he was actually most sympathetic to Deism, a philosophy which he shared with many other notable intellectuals of his time. Jefferson believed in a creator, and in the United States Declaration of Independence refers to "Nature's God". Jefferson believed, furthermore, that Nature's God endowed humanity with a number of inalienable rights, such as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". However, "Nature's God", in Jefferson's view, was not a being to be worshipped through the practice of religion, but to be understood, if possible, through reason and science.

Jefferson was raised Episcopalian at a time when the Episcopal Church was the state religion in Virginia. Before the American Revolution, when the Episcopal Church was the American branch of the Anglican Church of England, Jefferson was a vestryman in his local church, a lay position that was part of political office at the time. He later removed his name from those available to become godparents, because his Deist beliefs opposed Trinitarian theology. Jefferson later expressed general agreement with his friend Joseph Priestley's Unitarianism, but there were no Unitarian churches in Virginia.

From 1784 to 1786 Jefferson and James Madison worked together to oppose Patrick Henry's attempts to again assess taxes in Virginia to support churches. Instead, in 1786 the Virginia General Assembly passed Jefferson's Bill for Religious Freedom, which he had first submitted in 1779, and was one of only three accomplishments he put in his own epitaph. Virginia thereby became the first state to disestablish religion — Rhode Island, Delaware, and Pennsylvania never having had established religion.

Like most deists, Jefferson did not believe in miracles. He labored on an edited version of the Gospels, removing references to the miracles of Jesus and material he considered preternatural, leaving only Jesus' moral philosophy, of which he approved. This compilation was published after his death and became known as the Jefferson Bible, later printed in some 2,500 copies for the U.S. Congress in 1903. Though Jefferson did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, he had high esteem for Jesus' moral teachings, which he viewed as the "principles of a pure deism, and juster notions of the attributes of God, to reform [prior Jewish] moral doctrines to the standard of reason, justice & philanthropy, and to inculcate the belief of a future state." (Letter to Joseph Priestley, April 9, 1803.)

Jefferson also supported the erection of what he called a "wall of separation between Church and State", which he believed was a principle expressed within the First Amendment (see Letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, 1802, and Letter to Virginia Baptists, 1808).

"Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person's life, freedom of religion affects every individual. State churches that use government power to support themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of the church tends to make the clergy unresponsive to the people and leads to corruption within religion. Erecting the 'wall of separation between church and state,' therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.
"We have solved ... the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries."
— as quoted in the Letter to the Virginia Baptists (1808). This is his second use of the term "wall of separation," here quoting his own use in the Danbury Baptist letter. This wording was cited several times by the Supreme Court as an accurate description of the Establishment Clause: Reynolds (98 U.S. at 164, 1879); Everson (330 U.S. at 59, 1947); McCollum (333 U.S. at 232, 1948).

He further developed his thoughts in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1779), quoted from Merrill D. Peterson, ed., Thomas Jefferson: Writings (1984), p. 347:

"[N]o man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."

During his presidency, Jefferson refused to issue proclamations calling for days of prayer and thanksgiving. Moreover, his private letters indicate he was skeptical of too much interference by clergy in matters of civil government. His letters contain the following observations: "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government" (Letter to Alexander von Humboldt, December 6, 1813), and, "In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own" (Letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814). "May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all), the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government" (Letter to Roger C. Weightman June 24, 1826).

On the other hand, there is one anecdote by the Rev. Ethan Allen (1797-1879) in which Allen claimed to have seen Jefferson walking to church one Sunday with a large red prayer book under his arm. Allen claimed he overheard Jefferson say to a friend who had challenged him for going to church when he did not believe: "[N]o nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has ever been given to man and I as chief Magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example. Good morning sir." (quoted from the handwritten history of Rev. Ethan Allen at the Library of Congress). This anecdote seems to contradict statements in Jefferson's personal letters. As Rev. Allen was only 12 when Jefferson retired the presidency, there is large doubt as to the accuracy of Allen's diary entry.

Clearly, however, Jefferson's desire to erect a "wall of separation" did not include a desire to inhibit the personal religious lives of public officials. Jefferson himself attended certain public Christian services during his presidency. He also had friends who were clergy, and he supported some churches financially. Moreover, he personally believed, as did Deist and humanist John Locke, that human rights were endowed by a God: "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever" (Notes on the State of Virginia, 1781-1785 Query 18). Though not religious himself, he viewed religious opinions in others, including public officials, as a purely personal matter with which the state should not interfere:

"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State" (Letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT, January 1, 1802).


Jefferson was influenced heavily by the ideas of the Polish Brethren. Englishman John Biddle had translated two works by one of the Polish Brethren, Samuel Przypkowski; he also translated the Racovian Catechism and a work by J. Stegmann, a Polish Brother from Germany. Biddle's followers had very close relations with the Polish Socinian family of Crellius (aka Spinowski). Biddle was a pioneer of Unitarianism in England. Subsequently, many of the ideas of the Polish Brethren were continued in English-speaking countries by Unitarian congregations -- most notably, by Joseph Priestley, who had emigrated to the U.S. and was a friend of both James Madison and Jefferson.

Jefferson had and read Wawrzyniec Grzymala Goslicki's book De optimo senatore, and in his works paraphrased some of Goslicki's phrases from the book.

Jefferson's political principles were also heavily influenced by John Locke (particularly relating to the principles of inalienable rights and popular sovereignty) and Thomas Paine's Common Sense.

Jefferson and slavery

Jefferson's personal records show he owned 187 slaves, some of which were inherited at the death of his wife. It seems contradictory that he both owned slaves and yet was publicly outspoken in his belief that slavery was immoral. Many of his slaves were considered property that was held as a lien for his many accumulated debts. His ambivalence can be seen for example, in the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, which Jefferson wrote, in which he condemned the British crown for sponsoring the importation of slavery to the colonies, charging that the crown "has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere..." This language was dropped from the Declaration at the request of delegates from South Carolina and Georgia. In 1769, as a member of the state legislature, Jefferson proposed for that body to emancipate slaves in Virginia, but he was unsuccessful. In 1778, the legislature passed a bill he proposed to ban further importation of slaves into Virginia; although this did not bring complete emancipation, in his words, it "stopped the increase of the evil by importation, leaving to future efforts its final eradication".

The Sally Hemings controversy

A subject of considerable controversy since Jefferson's own time was whether Jefferson was the father of any of the children of his slave Sally Hemings. A modern look at this relationship by Shannon Fair in his book Jefferson's Children (ISBN 0375805974). DNA evidence has suggested that either Thomas Jefferson, or a close relative, may have fathered at least one of Hemings' children [1] (


Jefferson was an accomplished architect who was extremely influential in bringing the Neo-Classical style he encountered in France to the United States. He felt that it reflected the ideas of republic and democracy where the prevalent British styles represented the monarchy. His major works included Monticello (his home), the Virginia State Capital and the University of Virginia.


  • Online, Notes on the State of Virginia [2] (
  • Thomas Jefferson : Writings : Autobiography / Notes on the State of Virginia / Public and Private Papers / Addresses / Letters by Thomas Jefferson (1984, ISBN 094045016X)

Further reading

  • Bernstein R. B., Thomas Jefferson. (Oxford University Press, 2003) Excellent compact biography
  • Dickinson W. Adams, ed., Jefferson's Extracts from the Gospels (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1983). All three of Jefferson's versions of the Gospels, with relevant correspondence about his religious opinions. Valuable introduction by Eugene Sheridan.
  • James A. Bear, Jr., ed., Jefferson's Memorandum Books, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1997). Jefferson's account books with records of daily expenses.
  • Edwin Morris Betts and James A. Bear, Jr., The Family Letters of Thomas Jefferson (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1986). Correspondence of Jefferson with his children and grandchildren.
  • Gilbert Chinard, ed., The Commonplace Book of Thomas Jefferson: A Repertory of His Ideas on Government (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1926). Jefferson's legal commonplace book.
  • Lester Cappon, The Adams-Jefferson Letters (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1959). All the correspondence between Jefferson and John and Abigail Adams.
  • Wilbur Samuel Howell, ed., Jefferson's Parliamentary Writings (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1988). Jefferson's Manual of Parliamentary Practice, written when he was vice-president, with other relevant papers.
  • Frank Shuffelton, ed., Notes on the State of Virginia (New York: Penguin, 1999). Edition of Jefferson's only published book, follows the 1787 Stockdale edition that was the basis for almost all nineteenth-century reprints. Places in the footnotes Jefferson's later revisions done in his personal copy.
  • James Morton Smith, ed., The Republic of Letters: The Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, 1776-1826, 3 vols. (New York: Norton, 1995).
  • Douglas L. Wilson, ed., Jefferson's Literary Commonplace Book (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1989).

See also

History Clipart and Pictures

External links

Preceded by:
Patrick Henry
Governor of Virginia
Succeeded by:
William Fleming
Preceded by:
Benjamin Franklin
United States Minister Plenipotentiary to France
Succeeded by:
William Short
Preceded by:
John Jay
(as United States Secretary for Foreign Affairs)
United States Secretary of State
March 22, 1790December 31, 1793
Succeeded by:
Edmund Randolph
Preceded by:
Republican Party Presidential candidate
1796 (won Vice Presidency)(a),
1800 (won Presidency),
1804 (won)
Succeeded by:
James Madison
Preceded by:
John Adams
Vice President of the United States
March 4, 1797March 4, 1801
Succeeded by:
Aaron Burr
Preceded by:
John Adams
President of the United States
March 4, 1801March 4, 1809
Succeeded by:
James Madison

Template:Succession footnote Template:End box


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